As I look up conference rosters and speakers each year, I am noticing more and more women presenting and giving keynotes. I don’t think the testing field specifically is devoid of women (looking at my team makeup alone, we are predominantly female), but the overall perception is that women make up around 25% of technical roles. How do we get into the field? What does the landscape look like for women in the tech industry? How are we changing the world (and why do I care about this)?
Starting Out in QA…
I can’t say I always wanted to be in technology. Personally, for awhile I dreamed of being a travel writer, or the next Jeff Corwin or Steve Irwin (who wouldn’t love to work with animals AND travel?). I’m actually not sure of many people that go to school and say “Gee, I want to be a Software Tester.” QA is usually a field we stumble upon.
When I first got to college (a small, all-women’s liberal arts school in Virginia, Mary Baldwin College), I was a math major and after about a year and a half (after realizing I was quite possibly the world’s WORST mathematician and hated differential equations), switched to computer information systems (there were only two of us in my graduating class). I can’t say I was particularly passionate about it, but being the practical middle child that I am, I went with a field that I felt would yield a successful career – and I still got to do a lot of what appealed to me in math – problem solving, logic, a sense of order (and chaos all at the same time). Then the internship came that set the course of my life; after graduation, I started as a business analyst in a very waterfall world. We needed testing, which meant I did that too. I soon found I had a knack for writing tests and finding bugs. The rest is history as I continue to hone my craft.
I don’t think this is necessarily applicable to just women, I think most people in testing tend to come across the field in other roles, and stay with it. But I put it to the twittersphere, and – as suspected, even with some of the biggest names in the industry – QA fell on most of our laps.
Even though we all are now in QA, what does it look like for others in the tech world?
Women in Technology Trends
Surprisingly, given the amount of attention to STEM in the media and other outlets lately, the number of women in the technology field is on the decline. According to a study published in 2015 by the American Association for University Women, 1990 to 2013 saw a decline in the percentage of women in a computer-related field: 35% (1990) down to 26% (2013). Even Microsoft reported that just under 30% of its workforce is women, and just 16.6% held technical roles and 21% held leadership roles. Of course I have my own theories on why this is (another rant for another day), but I’d love to see this even out a bit more. My opinion: the more women you add, the more differing perspectives you gain, which can help improve overall business strategy.
Why do I care so much? It’s personal. I have two young daughters. I want them to see me and learn from me. It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl – if you apply yourself, you can do whatever you want. I’m in a field I love and work with an amazing team. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are not the only options for my girls, but they are there if they want it. I think STEM gives a great foundation to learn how to think and apply logic in day to day life. The point is, it gives them even more choices later in life. The more women our children see in STEM roles, perhaps the more they’ll think “I can do that!” and be encouraged to try new things.
I’m so glad I took the opportunity at a school where most students left with degrees in education, psychology, sociology (all wonderful professions, and greatly needed, just not my cup of tea). I don’t recall meeting too many women visiting my dad (an aerospace engineer) during “bring your daughter to work day”. I was one of two female IT/engineering interns at the Center for Applied Biomechanics at University of Virginia. My second internship with a contracting firm at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was my first experience seeing so many women in technical roles. I love seeing the landscape shift. I’ve even noticed it in my ten years at Blackboard within our own team! These are exciting times.
My days may soon be filled with Minecraft with my daughter, and I am absolutely looking forward to that. And then I’ll teach her how to break it.